Categories: INDIA NEWS

Busted by Mumbai police, how apps streaming porn thrived


A DAY-long shoot. A bungalow in Madh. A crew of seven including ‘actors’. A two-page script including dialogues. A mobile camera and halogen lights. That is all it takes subscription-based porn streaming platforms to produce movies for which the demand has spiked since the Covid-19 lockdown.

Based on nine arrests made so far by the Property Cell of the Mumbai Crime Branch, the police have uncovered a thriving business of pornographic subscriber-based apps on the lines of popular OTT streaming platforms where short 30-minute porn clips are uploaded once a week as “episodes”. Some of these platforms that thrived especially during the lockdown have a subscriber base in lakhs, and though police have not yet arrived at a specific number, a turnover believed to be in crores.

The Mumbai police’s crackdown began with a tip-off that pornographic movies were being shot at a property in Madh. A raid at a Green Park bungalow in the northern suburb proved the tip was spot on. Five persons were arrested from the property in the midst of one such shooting.

The movie was being shot by Yasmeen Khan alias Rowa (40) on her mobile camera. Also present was a lightman, a graphics designer and the actors, a semi-clad man and woman. The police rescued the woman who alleged she had been duped into believing that she was going to be in a role in a web series, and found out only when shooting was about to begin that it was pornography.

The five arrests at the bungalow led the police to four others allegedly involved in the racket, including actor Gehna Vasisth, all of whom are under arrest. Vasisth’s publicist Flynn Remedios issued a statement that the actor is “totally innocent”, “not involved in any porn film racket”, and as the producer and director of her company GV Studios, “she has only produced and directed films that are permissible in law and at most can be classified or categorised as erotica. She is being falsely implicated and trapped or made a victim by vested interests and business competitors who are out to defame her”.

An officer said that so far they have tracked down 12 apps that have pornographic or semi-pornographic content on their platforms. There has been a proliferation of these apps in the last two years, the police said. The platform owned by Khan for which the porn movie at Madh was being shot has a subscription fee of Rs 199 per month. An officer said that they had more than a lakh subscribers, and according to a back of the envelope calculation by the investigators, the business was raking in over Rs 2 crore monthly, with the bare minimum investment.

An officer said that in order to cut costs, the crew comprises of no more than five to seven persons. They book a bungalow at either Madh, Vasai-Virar, Alibaug or Lonavla for a day generally for Rs 10,000. The movies are generally shot on high-quality mobile cameras. During the raid at the Madh bungalow, the police found a two-page document containing the full script and dialogue for the movie.

“They have generally modelled their apps on the lines of popular streaming platforms. So for example, on these platforms there are options between various porn shows and new episodes added every few weeks. They generally tend to shoot two or three episodes in a week,” an officer added. The police estimate that in all they would not be spending more than Rs 1 lakh per shoot.

Earlier, those on the fringes of the film industry created these movies and sold them to apps that streamed porn movies. However, according to the police, Rowa decided she would start her own app. So from shooting the movie, editing it on personal laptops using freely available software and uploading it on the app, Rowa and her husband allegedly did everything. The actors were being paid Rs 10,000 for a shoot, an officer said.

The police said Rowa, her husband and their accomplices allegedly lured women from humble backgrounds into these porn movies by making false promises of launching them in web series. An officer said the aspiring actors would be called to the bungalow, where they would realise what the movie in which they had been promised a part was all about.

“At the last moment the accused would say that the actors wouldn’t be suitable to the earlier script and she had to act in another one, in which she would be asked to expose herself,” the officer said.

In a complaint given by a 29-year-old woman from Jharkhand, she said how when she refused to work as per the ‘new script’, she was threatened with a demand for Rs 5 lakh as compensation for the losses accrued by the company as they had booked the bungalow and made other preparations.

A crew member then took her aside and convinced her that no one would come to know about the film. “Not being in a position to make the payment and after being assured by crew members, the woman unwillingly agreed to work in the porn film,” an officer said. The complainant told the police that she was in a state of shock when some acquaintances alerted her about the porn videos featuring her that had started circulating on social media.

The woman from Jharkhand along with two others came forward to register FIRs against Khan and Vasisth for forcing them to act in porn films. So far four FIRs including one in Lonavla have been registered in the case.

The officer added that with the Supreme Court banning porn sites and the government blocking over 3,500 such sites, the demand for these apps skyrocketed especially during the lockdown. The apps circumvent the ban by remaining under the radar.

“They generally publicise through social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Messenger. The one app we checked had over a lakh followers. With minimal costs for shooting each episode, it turned out to be a profit-making venture for the accused,” the officer said. The police found Rs 36 lakh in the account of Khan’s company after they arrested her. They are treating the amount as proceeds of crime.

The accused have been booked under Section 67 (A) of the Information Technology Act that deals with punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form and has a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10 lakh.

Another issue that the police are facing is that some of these portals claim that their content is not porn but erotica. “Mumbai police has mixed up and clubbed together Gehna’s erotica filmmaking work with hard porn and hard porn makers in India. There is a legal difference between erotica or sensual or bold films and hardcore porn…,” Vasisth’s publicist had said after he arrest.

An officer said, “Even shows on popular mainstream OTT platforms have nudity. However, in those works it is clearly a part of the storyline. In the cases that we have busted, the storyline is part of the nudity. That is the basic guiding principle based on which we have taken action.”



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